The Afghan Taliban has publicly named its new leader: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, according to two commanders of the Islamic militant organization.
Accorrding to Reuters, the commanders said the long-time deputy of the deceased Mullah Omar was elected at a shura or meeting of top Taliban representatives just outside the Pakistani city of Quetta, where many of them are based.
Mullah Mansoor is only the Taliban’s second-ever leader, and has been given the title "Commander of the Faithful," the supreme title of the late Mullah Omar, reported The Associated Press. Officials describe him as an "active director" of the jihad, or holy war, for some years, and say he has already been effectively running the Taliban’s efforts for the past three years.
Praising their new leader on Friday, Taliban officials said he was one of the most "trusted" associates of the late Mullah Omar, “a statement likely meant to rally followers behind the leadership at a time of a deeply fractured insurgency,” reported the AP.
On Thursday, the group confirmed the passing of Omar, the one-eyed, reclusive leader who had been at the helm since founding the organization in the 1990s.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed reports of Omar’s death, although he said it occurred more recently than April 2013, which is when the Afghanistan government said he died earlier this week.
“For some time, [Omar] has been suffering a kind of sickness and over the last two weeks it became more serious, and due to that illness he passed away,” Mr. Mujahid said, according to TIME. No details were given on the exact date or cause of his death.
While politicians and pundits have seen the news of Omar’s death as cause for hope, it’s unlikely the event will change much, reported The Christian Science Monitor. “It's not clear if Mullah Omar had much, if any, influence left at the time of his death, and many believe he'd been reduced to a symbolic figurehead,” wrote correspondent Tom A. Peter.
In response to the Afghan government’s announcement Wednesday that Omar had died, the Taliban pulled out of the long-awaited peace talks that were scheduled to take place on Friday, hosted by the Pakistani government.
It would have been only the second formal face-to-face meeting with the Taliban, according to the AP. The Foreign Affairs Ministry said Kabul "as always, is committed to the peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban movement and hopes that the aforementioned meeting will be held in the near future. Afghanistan believes that in the current situation, peace negotiations are (more) possible than any time before.”
The Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Mansoor, is seen as close to Pakistan, having set up a base and support system for his insurgents through the war, now in its 14th year. Critics speculate that this may convince him to revive the peace talks.
A deputy leader has also been elected. Sirajuddin Haqqani is a leader of the Haqqani militant faction that is connected to Al Qaeda, and is believed to be responsible for numerous deadly attacks in Afghanistan. American officials have placed a $10 million bounty on him.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.